Interview: Foreign Concept
Foreign Concept’s music encapsulates the strand of drum & bass that Critical Music has become known for: deep, driving, and drenched in the underground. Starting out with debut smasher Mob Justice, the Bristol-based producer recently released Skit City, a vibe-packed run of four urban skewed Concept steppers. Ahead of his appearance at Sequences Festival at Motion at the end of July, we caught up with him to find out what he makes of Bristol’s bassy one-dayer and get a more detailed look at the man behind some of Critical’s best releases.
Just to quickly kick things off, give us a brief run through of your backstory - how did you get into music?
After I left school, I went into investment banking; I did that for five years and saved up some money, moved to Amsterdam, locked myself up for a year and learnt how to make music. Then I moved to Brighton, again spent about a year or so there making music, had my first couple of releases and got signed by Critical in 2010.
So on to the music then - you released your Skit City EP last month, featuring a couple of originals, a collaboration with Halogenix and that beautiful LSB remix of 'When You’re Alone'. The EP is based on a book, right?
Yeah, so my mate Jack had written a graphic illustration novel called Skit City, where he effectively created this whole city that’s all set in one moment in time. There’s an interlinking storyline about the mayor being assassinated, but it’s really all about the little things and there’s an unbelievable amount of detail, and I wanted to help him bring it to a bit of an audience as it was his first new project. So, I decided to write a track around that, base the EP off it, get him to do the artwork and turn it onto a collaborative project. I wanted to make a track with Laurence (Halogenix), we’ve been mates for a long time, but also do a remix and LSB was the first person who came to mind. So, that’s it, but really it was to try and create this Skit City project between the music, artwork and book.
Sticking with the title track, how did it come about and thinking back now, a month after the release, what are your thoughts on how it went?
That was the one to link the artwork and music together really, so that’s where it stemmed from, and I’d written the base of the track around that soul sample. I wanted to make it more urban to fit the aesthetic nature of the book and I’ve always really liked Fox (the vocalist on the track), so he was the first choice for it. After I sent him the track and told him what it was about, and the kind of vibe I wanted, he came back and nailed it straight away.
It was great, it’s one of those things where I was listening to it so much that I hated it up until about two weeks ago, but now I’ve grown to like it all over again. Outside of music I buy property and develop it, so some guys who rent an office from me and make videos helped to do the video for Skit City, which was a complete animation of Jack’s artwork. Overall, I’m really happy with it, yeah.
Your last release, the Make Meals EP, was back in 2014 - how were you filling your time between these two releases?
The music I like to make is fairly deep, it’s not heavy, dancefloor drum & bass. The older I’ve got and the more I’ve worked in drum & bass, the more I realise that I’ve seen it time and time again; DJs and producers start off making this really cool music but when their DJ career grows, they play bigger shows and want to progress, buy a car or a house, they need to commercialise the music they make.
Personally, I wanted to try and make the music I make without changing to get more revenue. So, I started looking at ways to make money outside of music and the couple of years between those two EPs I was setting myself up in Bristol.
I built some music studios which I rent out and we also built a community centre in south Bristol, so it’s just a way of generating money so I can make music I like, regardless of career concerns.
That’s impressive! Linking into that, it seems that increasingly promoters are now filling the bill with loads of massive acts to stay competitive, and many people- myself included - don’t think that leads to the best sets. Would you rather see smaller more underground nights with longer sets?
Yeah, I mean I definitely prefer more underground-geared nights and longer sets, you hear more interesting music and you’ve got more of an opportunity to showcase what you’re about. I think when you’re limited to an hour set alongside all these big name DJs, as a more underground artist you feel that the room's full of people who’ve just come to see DJ such-and-such. They want to hear big tunes, so you don’t feel like you have as much freedom to play more underground music.
I’d certainly agree that it does feel as if there’s a lot higher end, commercial nights than there are cool, underground ones. I don’t know how much of that is pressure on promoters where clubs are shutting down or there’s less people going out for whatever reason, so they feel like they have to put on huge nights to get people in.
In Sheffield, we have a few small promoters and a few small venues that are willing to put these nights on, so that’s definitely important, because the demand is there.
I think as well, traditionally and historically, a lot of these cool underground nights were run by students, and I guess maybe the dynamic has changed slightly with students having to pay more and more to go to university.
I don’t think there’s much surplus cash to put these nights on, it’s now down to career promoters who aren’t motivated by their love for the music and so it’s about the bottom line instead, hence the commercial line-ups.
Most of your music has come out on Critical, what drew you to the label and how did you get involved?
I’ve always followed them closely and used to buy a lot of Critical vinyl, I’ve always just loved their sound. It was a chance encounter really, I gave a CD with some tracks to my friend Tom who worked with Detonate up in Nottingham, a big promotion outlet who had Kasra up to play.
He heard the guy running Detonate play the tunes, found out what they were and rung me a couple of days later asking to meet up in London. We had a chat and I signed the following week. One of those tunes he’d heard was called Mob Justice, which subsequently got put out on my first Critical release.
Keeping with Critical, has working with Kasra and co. changed how you think about and make music?
I wouldn’t necessarily say it has, I’ve been very fortunate because Critical is such a professional label that I’ve never wanted to work elsewhere. They really allow you to express yourself creatively and you have the freedom to send them anything - they might not like it, but it doesn’t have to fit into a certain box.
Maybe the one thing it has changed is the production value, because having guys at the more technical end, like Mefjus, means you raise your game in that sense. Kasra likes the fact that everyone is individual and we all do our own thing, Critical is driven by what the artists put out, rather than the artists trying to make something for the label.
That’s really interesting. Critical is based in London but you’re in Bristol now, how are you liking the city?
I love it, my dad’s side are all from Bristol, so I’ve been coming here since I was born and it’s always felt like a second home. It was only a matter of time before I moved here and yeah, it’s amazing, it offers everything I want in a city; not too big and a lot of diversity, both creatively and ethnically.
Bristol is clearly perfect for your music then and the city is known for its D&B, how strong is the scene right now both in drum & bass and further afield?
I’d say drum & bass is incredibly healthy, it took a dive about a year and a half, two years ago, but now you’ll see three cool nights on the same weekend and they’ll all be packed. There’s a high demand for it and for quality line-ups. The other sides of music are the same, the bass house and techno scenes are really popular as well as dub, reggae and loads of other genres.
I guess the salient point is that everyone is very supportive of each other, regardless of what they do or what they make; not only supportive, but interested. People really take an interest in what you’re doing, looking for different ways that they can help each other or hooking other people up with one another. There’s a very community feel to Bristol in terms of the music.
Sequences festival is another symptom of that strength then, what was your experience like last year?
Loved it, yeah, it was great. There’s quite a lot of diversity and there’s only three stages but amongst the stages is a wide range of sounds and that draws a varied crowd, which is great.
I tend to play a lot of drum & bass shows which have a very drum & bassy crowd, which I love, but it was nice to see all these diverse types of people interested in different shades of electronic music. You’ve got the drum & bass guys checking out the Deep Medi stage and vice versa, and there was just a lot of excitement at Sequences last year. Motion is an excellent venue, plus the sun and weather were amazing too.
The guys that put the line-up on really know what they’re doing, they do it week in, week out - it’s done by The Blast who do shows at Motion and are run by Rob, who works at fabric as well. He’s putting on so many cool line-ups all the time, and because he can see who he thinks is producing great music or DJing great music, all year round, the festival is like a sum of all those line-ups.
This is a tough one because I’m sure it changes, but how do you usually go about your sets and what can we expect at Sequences?
I tend to play a fairly mixed bag of music both new and old, usually mixing up the different sounds so there’s a jungle segment in there, a halftime bit and some harder cuts too. It’s always a mishmash, and it’s a tough one to answer because it depends on where you’re billed and what time, who you’re following on from and who comes on after.
Lots of brand new music though, definitely some classics and, as I said, various chunks of different styles within drum & bass.
Sounds awesome. Are there any artists you’re particularly excited to see or play alongside?
I’d say Commodo, his last album was amazing and I’ve never seen him play before, so one hundred percent him. Kahn & Neek always, they’re on the Bandulu stage, and on the Critical stage the King of the Rollers guys, I love their tunes. I haven’t seen Chase & Status in ages so they’ll be interesting too.
What are three of your favourite tracks from those guys and why?
Commodo – 'Hadi Hadi'
Sick tune, almost like medieval dubstep and if someone had made it in the 17th Century or whenever it was, that’s what it’d sound like. Quite raw, with a really cool groove and an amazing sample.
Kahn – 'Badman City' (feat. Flowdan)
A nice vocal driven grime tune, with another sick sample.
Uncle22 & Navigator - 'Choose One (Serum Remix)'
This is a jungly stepper with an amazing, subby bass.
OK, just a few last things. Some of your artwork is quite whacky, including a photo of you with an extremely fluffy dog, and also you depicted in a medieval-esque oil painting. Where’d these come from? Is that your dog?
That is actually one of the girls from Game of Thrones’ dog, Maisie Williams. I had to get some press shots done for the last EP, and there’s so many generic, moody shots of a tunnel with graffiti or something that I decided to do some more comical ones.
It’s like those classic grime photos which had guys with staffies looking mean, except I decided to get the lamest looking dog I could. So, she came along and leant me her dog which was amazing, it stole the show really, and it was cool because she’s into the music and stuff as well.
The other one is from the same set of press shots. My cousin, who’s an artist, asked if he could draw me a press photo and so I just said well, make it like an old style oil painting but put some modern stuff in there.
Where else can people expect to see you this summer?
I’m doing a few festivals like Shambala, Nozdock and Let It Roll, along with a bunch of others that I’d need to look up right now, but all the dates are online.
Any final shouts?
Shout out to Rob and Tom for putting on Sequences, shout out to everyone playing there and shout out to everyone who is going to come down!
Foreign Concept plays at Sequences Festival 2017 at Motion in Bristol on July 29th. Full info and tickets are available here.
Words: Ben Hunter